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Annual bird count tallies species to assess trends.

Byline: JAIME LYN REA The Register-Guard

COBURG - With a pair of binoculars around his neck, a bird book sticking out from his coat pocket and a tripod-mounted scope in hand, Dick Lamster of Eugene looked the part of bird enthusiast on Sunday.

Now all he needed was for some birds to show themselves.

"It's like a treasure hunt," he said. "You're after good-looking birds you maybe haven't seen before. Everyone likes a treasure hunt."

Standing in a small pioneer cemetery on the southern outskirts of Coburg, Lamster and four other Lane County Audubon Society members participated in the chapter's annual Christmas Bird Count. Their assignment: Count the various birds and bird species spotted during the day in areas surrounding the town of Coburg, including the banks of the McKenzie River.

But Lamster and friends were hardly alone: More than 100 people in 22 groups in Lane County participated in Sunday's count and observed multiple birds from about 130 species. They surveyed a 15-mile-wide section for 24 hours, although only a few people worked in the dark to record the owl population.

The annual count helps show long-term trends in bird populations and identify when bird species may become endangered, Lamster said.

The count began nationally on Christmas Day in 1900 and spread through North and Central America. In Lane County, people have surveyed the bird population around Christmastime since before World War II, he said.

The count is "one-third social, one-third scientific and one-third doing something good for nature," said Lamster, an Audubon member and birder since 1975.

While many enthusiasts avoid distractions to focus on counting every possible bird in an area, Lamster and friends were more casual in approach. As they counted, they chatted about birds and the hobby of birding - and stopped to watch a red fox pounce on mice in a field.

But they're serious enough to object to being called bird watchers. "We're birders," Lamster said. "Birders are more serious. Anyone can watch a bird."

Their dedication was apparent in the cemetery as they named about 10 species without referring to a bird identification book.

"Someone just flew in here," Lamster's wife, Maeve Sowles, said as she pointed toward a tall oak tree. As necks craned upward, the birders positioned their binoculars for a closer look.

"It looks like a red-breasted sapsucker," someone said. Sowles recorded the sighting on a master list of about 140 bird species.

Sowles, the local chapter's president, has participated in the bird counts for nearly a decade.

"It's a lot of fun," she said. "Sometimes the days aren't very appealing to stand outside all day. But it's fun to get together with people."

Sowles and her cohorts started their count at 8:30 a.m. Over the next eight hours, they saw 50 species, including songbirds, hawks, blackbirds, ducks, herons, sparrows, towhees, quail and two mature bald eagles.

Dave Stone of Eugene, another member in the group, said looking for birds gives him a chance to explore the natural world.

"It's a great way to get out in the woods and see the land," he said. "(The birds) are the ones that show us what's going on in nature."

CAPTION(S):

Lane County Audubon Society members Maeve Sowles (left) and Dick Lamster focus their sights on a northern harrier. They were one of several groups deployed throughout the county to determine species numbers.
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Title Annotation:Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 31, 2001
Words:563
Previous Article:Not too arid for a duck out of water.
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